Personality clashes and policy differences among the Republicans who control the Legislature are putting Gov. Scott Walker's election-year plans in peril with the session set to end this week.
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos have been unable to agree on a juvenile justice overhaul plan, a minor one-time tax break for parents, and a school safety initiative all sought by Walker, who’s running for a third term in November.
Walker has been unable to broker a deal and Fitzgerald has accused the governor of leaving him out of negotiations. Vos has refused to budge from his position, while he and Fitzgerald have traded snipes over the process that’s gotten them to this place.
“I think both of them have sort of drawn a line in the sand,” Republican Sen. Luther Olsen said Friday of Fitzgerald and Vos. “The decision will be who will step across the line and get something done or who will let it die.”
Democratic Sen. Jon Erpenbach said he understood why Fitzgerald was frustrated with Vos and Walker reaching agreement on key issues that the Senate has not signed off on.
“It’s putting Senate Republicans in a tough spot,” Erpenbach said. “I can’t imagine (Fitzgerald) being cut out of the process on major Republican proposals.”
If Walker had included Senate Republicans from the beginning, there wouldn’t be an impasse heading into the final week of the session, Erpenbach said.
“I don’t think he cares,” Erpenbach said of Walker. “I think he’s been checked out ever since he ran for president.”
Walker’s spokeswoman, Amy Hasenberg, said the governor has rallied public support, attended Assembly and Senate GOP caucuses, made phone calls to lawmakers and contacted every Republican senator’s office in recent days.
“These are slam-dunk issues that Wisconsinites care about and the governor is hopeful the Legislature will get them done,” she said.
The Assembly last month unanimously approved a bill to close the troubled Lincoln Hills juvenile prison by 2021 and replace it with smaller, regional facilities. But Fitzgerald balked, complaining that he wasn’t personally involved in the negotiations, calling the process “horrendous.”
“They continue to cut deals between the governor and Assembly and I don’t know why they think that will result in bills becoming law,” Fitzgerald said last month.
The Senate, instead, plans to vote Tuesday on a scaled-back Lincoln Hills bill that would close the prison but not specify what would replace it.
Vos has insisted that the Assembly will not return to vote on that bill or anything else during the regular session. Because the same bill must pass both the Senate and Assembly, the Lincoln Hills proposal would die if the two sides don’t reach a deal.
Walker’s $100 child tax credit faces the same fate. Walker proposed the rebate as a way to put cash in voters’ hands in August, ahead of his November bid for re-election. His original proposal, as approved by the Assembly, also included a sales tax holiday in August.
But the Senate balked at that, with some Republicans deriding it as nothing more than an election-year gimmick. The bill it plans to vote on Tuesday would do the $100 child credit only, but unless the Assembly comes back unexpectedly and agrees to that, nothing will pass.
Walker’s $100 million school safety initiative also hangs in the balance. The Assembly is returning in a special session to take up only school safety. But Fitzgerald has said the Senate will vote on something similar, but not identical, during a regular session.
The same bill must be passed in the same session, setting up school safety as another potential casualty.
Democrats have denounced Walker’s school safety plan as an ineffective sham intended to give the appearance of doing something while really doing nothing helpful at all.
Olsen said he remained optimistic that last-minute deals could be reached next week before the session ends.